Two down. one to go for the Ohio State Buckeyes in their quest to win a national championship. After demolishing the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten title game to get themselves in to the College Football Playoff, OSU took down No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
It set up an old-school Rose Bowl matchup with the Oregon Ducks in the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship game on Jan. 12. Only, this game won’t take place in the Rose Bowl, rather it will take place in the shrine to Jerry Jones known now as AT&T Stadium.
Ohio State has defied the odds all season long, and they’ll have to do it again according to the Las Vegas oddsmakers. That’s because Oregon is a 6.5-point favorite in the national championship game.
No matter the favorite or underdog status, there are things Ohio State must do and must avoid doing in order to beat the favored Ducks. Today we’ll focus on the things OSU must avoid in order to hoist the golden rod…errr, National Championship trophy come Monday night.
Ohio State Must Avoid A Slow Start…in the Second Half
Ohio State has developed an easy blueprint to follow, especially when it is winning big games. It punches its opponent in the mouth when they open with the football, then proceeds to do the same on the offensive side of the football.
However, Oregon has seen teams do that to them in the past and survived to win a game going away. While it will be important to get off to a good start, it will be equally important to come out and follow the opening blueprint in the second half.
What the Buckeyes can not afford to do is give the Ducks any momentum at the start of the second half. It’s what fellow Big Ten team Michigan State did and that game went from potential classic to blowout quicker than MSU wanted it to happen.
Ohio State will be fine if it can take it’s opening gameplan and apply it to the post-halftime adjustment period. If it can’t then Ohio State may not be able to keep up with the Ducks, who are great at taking any momentum and literally running with it.
Avoid A Track Meet With Oregon
Didn’t we just say the Buckeyes can’t slow the game down? Yes, that is 100 percent the case, but that doesn’t mean Ohio State has to play in super-flying Duck mode either. Oregon is averaging 77.4 plays per game so far this season (34th in the country), while Ohio State is averaging 74.4 plays per game.
However close the two are in plays per game, they get there in vastly different ways. Ohio State averages 31:04 minutes of time of possession, while Oregon averages 27:07 minutes of time of possession. It may not seem great, but consider the fact that OSU ranks 39th and Oregon is 120th in time of possession according to CFBstats.com.
Playing a bit more of a power-based run game and hitting the explosive play off the back of that is exactly what Ohio State has done all season long. Cardale Jones is a perfect quarterback to do that with, as Jones has played well within the offense and improvised only when needed.
The fact of the matter is, Ohio State can not win the game if they are going to try to match the tempo of the Ducks. Just don’t get fooled in to believing volume of plays equals success or failure for the Buckeyes. What is most important is for them to get quality out of the plays they will have.
Don’t Turn the Ball Over
This is one of the most interesting battles on the stat sheet, as Oregon is second in the country in turnover margin and Ohio State is 17th nationally in that category. So, telling the Buckeyes to not turn the ball over seems a bit easy.
However, Oregon has forced 30 turnovers on the season and they took it to Florida State in that category during the Rose Bowl. The Ducks forced four fumbles and got an interception, and while it felt like fate was working in the favor of Oregon, it also served as a warning of what a team can’t do against the Ducks.
Look for Oregon’s defense to continue to be aggressive in trying to turn the young Buckeyes over in space. Ohio State needs to protect the football or it could be a long night in North Texas.
Running Back Royce Freeman Get Going
Oregon is dangerous because it is so multiple, however the real secret (if there are any at this point) has been it’s ability to run the football. The secret to that is freshman running back Royce Freeman, who adds something that isn’t often heard of or seen in Oregon’s offense — a true power running game.
Freeman has gone off for 1,343 yards and a team-high 18 touchdowns so far this season, while also averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
He has the ability to put this team on his back and also lull a team to sleep because of his power game. That said, Ohio State must avoid allowing Freeman to establish himself early in the game. What the Ducks do on offense is hit you with power and with finesse and attempt to keep you guessing.
What the Buckeyes defense can’t do is get in to a game where they are getting picked apart by both the running game of Freeman and the passing game of Mariota. Ohio State has to avoid allowing Freeman to get anything established early on, forcing the Ducks to be one-dimensional.
Think of what the Buckeyes did to Melvin Gordon, because making the Ducks one-dimensional is a massive win, even if you’re talking about making Marcus Mariota beat you.
Avoid Missing Open-Field Tackles
Why is the Oregon offense so dangerous? It’s because 99 percent of the offense is designed to the ball in the hands of playmakers in space and allow them to make said plays.
Ohio State’s defense has been rather aggressive and has played pretty well in space so far this season, but taking on Alabama’s playmakers and Oregon’s playmakers are like apple’s and orange’s. Oregon has speed to kill at just about every skill position and multiple waves of speed.
That’s the difference between Oregon and most opponents Ohio State or anyone else in college football face.
If Ohio State isn’t sound fundamentally and can’t make the open-field tackle on a consistent basis, none of the other four things we’ve talked about will matter much. One missed tackle in the open field can be the difference between a first down and a touchdown given Oregon’s speed.
This isn’t Alabama or Wisconsin were a few missed tackles can be saved by the speed you possess on the other side of the field. Oregon will kill you for missed tackles in the open field.